Paint the cinder block supports for an eclectic look.

How to Make Cinder Block Bookshelves

by Karie Lapham Fay

From a movable bookshelf for an apartment or college dorm room to a functional, eclectic shelving unit for your home, cinder blocks and wood boards can fulfill your storage and decoration needs. It's bound to cost less than real-wood bookshelves and storage units (as opposed to flimsy particle board furniture and similar low-end products) and it's practical. You're not limited to the cold look of bare concrete and plain wood, either. A variety of low-cost materials enable you to customize your bookshelves to suit your sense of style.

1. Choose Your Blocks

Although the two names are often used interchangeably, a cinder block is not quite the same thing as a concrete block. A concrete block may be solid or contain hollow openings running through the center similar to a cinder block. Concrete blocks are heavier, however, as they consist of a slurry of cement along with small stones or gravel. Cinder blocks are much lighter, made as they are from cement and cinders or ash -- a byproduct of coal. If you have either lying around your house or yard already, either will work. Keep in mind, however, that cinder blocks cannot carry as heavy a load as concrete blocks.

2. Making Wooden Shelves

A bookshelf made from a row of blocks alone isn't very practical. Add wooden boards to create shelves instead. You could rip plywood or a similar sheet material into strips, of course. Solid wood boards look much better and come much thicker than sheet material, however. If you purchase the boards at certain home improvement retailers, they might even cut it to the shelf length you require. Or, use reclaimed wood for character. If you plan to use a standard 8-by-8-by-16-inch block, choose a board width of at least eight inches and a minimum thickness of one inch. In some situations, you may desire a 10-inch-wide board. Don't go much wider, to prevent the board from hanging over the front edge too far.

3. Setting Up Shelving

Set up your shelving system in a dry run or make a sketch to enable you to visualize it. Place the first row of blocks, with gaps between each used, and turn every block to orient it as you prefer. Lay three blocks about 2 feet apart, for instance, with the hollow portions facing outward. Next comes a board to create the shelf, then another set of blocks -- perhaps staggered from the first row and turned so the blocks are taller than the first, with the hollow portion running vertically. Continue as desired to build it to fit your specific needs. Use a double row (two blocks deep) to create a sturdier -- but heavier -- design, especially if you don't have it against a wall.

4. Decorative Options

If cold, lifeless-looking blocks don't bother you, leave the blocks as they are. However, just as you can stain or paint your wooden shelves, you can also fix up the block supports. Keep it quick and easy by merely painting the cinder or concrete in any color you desire. A rainbow of colors, a color that contrasts with the room, or a color that blends in with the walls are a few choices. You could even create a dust ruffle or skirt effect; even if you're not much of a seamstress, a simple length of material draped over the top cinder block in each vertical row (or over each block individually), hanging down, will create an unusual effect. If you really want to flex your talent, cut three boards for each block used. Measure two to equal the block sides and make the front board wide enough to cover the block front as well as the side pieces. Glue and nail together, then fit around each brick like a cap. The effect is of an all-wood shelf -- only you will know it's actually block.

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